Drawing and well-being

A pencil page from Eve

Drawing is, or should be, a soothing activity. Yes, it can be difficult, it can be hard work but if you’re finding it stressful, it might be a good idea to reflect on why that is. I can tell you now that it’s not because you ‘can’t draw.’ Everyone can draw, you just have to find a way to draw like yourself. 

As most of you will already know, I had a complicated and traumatic childhood with a variety of adverse experiences that affected my life and my health in a number of ways. One of the questions I ask in my graphic novel Becoming Unbecoming is: what would I have done, if I’d not been interrupted? I’ll never know, but what I do know if that most of us develop coping strategies in response to whatever our issues are, and it seems likely my main preoccupations developed as a way of coping. I wanted to be a hospital doctor when I was a kid, or a farmer. Clearly, I haven’t fulfilled these ambitions, though I am the kind of Dr who might be able to help with philosophical ailments and I do grow my own vegetables. 

Instead, something I’ve always felt able to do – drawing – developed from childhood enjoyment into work. I could excel at school through drawing, because it didn’t require me to study – attending classes and completing homework – it was of itself a kind of study, a kind of practice. My few good memories of school life are of concentrating on a drawing in pen and ink, or pencil, feeling at one with the world, completely focussed, no anxiety, no inner noise, only peacefulness. The paid work I’ve done in this field is less soothing and occasionally extremely stressful, but I’ve never lost the facility to use drawing to self-soothe.

So, what is the soothing quality of drawing? Those of you who’ve been frustrated to the point of chucking your drawing materials in the bin are probably wondering what I’m talking about. It’s this: I’m sure, after a lifetime of drawing practice, after decades of working with people of all ages to make art, after a long recovery from awful experiences, that drawing can be treated like a contemplative practice if the drawer can let go of the idea there is a right or wrong way to do it and instead concentrate on the moving pencil, the moving hand, the marks being made, the scritch-scratch, the moment. I hope to help you develop your drawing practice to this point, and I’m confident you’ll not only make better drawings, you’ll feel calmer and more at peace with the world. 

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